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9 Stars Who Played Themselves

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In the hit apocalyptic comedy This is the End, Seth Rogen (who co-wrote the film with his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg), James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Aziz Ansari, and Rihanna are just some of the stars to appear as themselves in the jam-packed flick. Well, at least an intentionally over-the-top variation of themselves. As Danny McBride (who is portrayed as a Channing Tatum worshipper turned cannibal in the deranged comedy) explained to, "Everybody is definitely portrayed in a way that is a little more grotesque than they normally are." Take, for instance, Michael Cera playing himself as a coked-up, Capri Sun-sipping d-bag, or Mindy Kaling playing herself as someone who wants to have sex with that particular Michael Cera. (Though, in our minds, we'd like to imagine that Watson really would steal all of McBride's stuff like she does in the trailer.)

But the crop of current Hollywood stars that appear in This is the End is hardly the first to play an embellished version of themselves on the big or small screen. Here are nine of the most outrageous times a star played themselves ... or someone like them.

1. Kate Winslet on Extras

On his comedy series Extras, creator/star Ricky Gervais had a knack for getting esteemed British actors and actresses to play crass, clueless, or downright cruel versions of themselves. Whether it was a perv-y Sir Patrick Stewart spending an uncomfortable amount of time coming up with ways to get ladies naked or a sexually ambitious Daniel Radcliffe literally waving condoms around, all they had in common with these "characters" was their namesake. Fellow universally-liked star Kate Winslet played "herself" in an uproarious season 1 episode in which the actress was portrayed as a cynical, un-PC star who only chose to be in a Holocaust movie because it would win her accolades. In a delicious bit of irony, three years later the humble and good-humored Winslet would go on to win her first long-overdue Oscar ... for appearing in a Holocaust movie. Even better, Gervais made a crack about the coincidence during his 2009 Golden Globes hosting stint.

2. Liam Neeson on Life's Too Short

Thankfully, when it came to stars playing the worst possible version of themselves, Gervais didn't stop with Extras. Even though his follow-up, Life's Too Short, didn't hit quite the same nerve, Liam Neeson's appearance as a stoic, unintentionally hilarious Liam Neeson made the whole series worthwhile. In his instant classic segment, "Liam Neeson" wanted to make his segue into stand-up and sketch comedy with terribly unfunny bits about contracting "full-blown AIDS" and getting his role as Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List because he loved making lists. Turns out, Liam Neeson is pretty damn funny after all.

3. Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

How I Met Your Mother may have propelled former child star Neil Patrick Harris back onto the A-list, but it was his appearance in the cult 2004 stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle that really transformed him from Doogie to legendary. In the movie, NPH is an insane, Ecstasy-riddled hitchhiker on the hunt for, as he not so delicately puts it, "poon tang." Just a little bit of a departure from the homosexual father of two in a long-committed relationship with a penchant for musical theater and being one of the most-liked guys in Hollywood. But the stunt casting worked: The cameo put Harris back on the map and helped spawn two Harold & Kumar sequels, both of which he appeared in as "himself."

4. James Van Der Beek on Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23

Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek has always had a good sense of humor about himself and his status as a former teen heartthrob, but that very same sense of humor about fame and his place in Hollywood was never better than when he played "himself" in the all-too-short-lived ABC comedy Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23. In the series, Van Der Beek played a raging egomaniac and single Lothario (in real life, the 36-year-old is a married father of two), but anyone with that big of an ego would never be willing to play someone so scummy with their same name.

5. Matt LeBlanc on Episodes

Matt LeBlanc earned a Golden Globe (it's no Soapie, but still pretty damn impressive) for his performance as ... Matt LeBlanc. The former Friends star plays a dopey, desperate version of himself on the Showtime satire. In fact, LeBlanc is such a jerk on Episodes that all of his Friends castmates have turned against him or downright hate him since their hit show wrapped. That's a fate far worse than Joey.

6. John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich

Everything is a little bit off in Spike Jonze's brilliant, but infinitely bizarre, Being John Malkovich ... including John Malkovich himself. Sure, the Oscar-nominated actor is a little bit strange, but he most certainly doesn't have a portal that leads you into his brain and allows you to experience the world as John Malkovich. (At least, we're pretty sure he doesn't.)

7. Cate Blanchett in Coffee and Cigarettes

Cate Blanchett is a effortlessly cool and stunningly beautiful actress, so we'd say that her turn as herself in 2003's Coffee and Cigarettes wasn't much of a stretch as an effortlessly cool and stunningly beautiful actress named Cate Blanchett. Then again, it's a safe bet the real Cate Blanchett doesn't often find herself having bizarre, uncomfortable meetings with a cousin who looks exactly like her.

8. Howard Stern in Private Parts

You either love Howard Stern—or love to hate him. Of course, if you saw his biographical 1997 film Private Parts, your opinion of the shock jock may have changed, whichever side you fell on. Stern played himself in his life story and the most shocking thing of all turned out to be that the humorous host wasn't just the loudmouth misogynist we tuned into (or as far away as possible from) on our radio dial during our morning commutes, but an ambitious, surprisingly human, and yes, even a little bit sweet, regular guy with some big dreams.

9. Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Out of everyone on this list, Larry David is probably the closest to his "Larry David" on the master class in awkward comedy, Curb Your Enthusiasm (which is chock full of stars playing variations of themselves). He's a neurotic, a curmudgeon, a tremendous talent, a total bastard, and above all, a comedy genius. Of course, if the real-life David was anything remotely like his on-screen likeness, he'd probably have burned every bridge in Hollywood by now because he's pretttt-ay, pretttt-ay, prettttttt-ay annoying.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]